With "fiscal cliff" talks going to the wire, President Barack Obama said Friday he was optimistic that an agreement can be reached in time to avert the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could throw the economy back into recession.
If an agreement is not reached in time, he said he would urge Senate leaders to bring to the floor a basic package for an up or down vote on extending a tax break for the middle class and extending unemployment insurance for the 2 million Americans looking for a job. "I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote," he said.
Obama spoke at the White House after a late afternoon meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders. He called the talks "good and constructive."
"I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time," Obama told reporters.
After the meeting, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also called the talks "good." "I'm hopeful and optimistic," McConnell said, adding that he hoped Senate leaders can make recommendations by Sunday, when the House reconvenes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the negotiations were "very constructive," and that the next 24 hours were going to be crucial. "We hope that it will bear fruit, but that is what we hoped a lot," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner's office said the group agreed that the next step should be the Senate taking bipartisan action. And Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said: "Members of the Senate will continue to work toward producing a bipartisan package in a timely manner to protect American taxpayers and jobs from a massive tax hike in January."
In addition to Reid, McConnell and Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi participated in the Oval Office meeting, as did Vice President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
A source familiar with the meeting told CNBC that Obama did not plan to make a new offer; just lay out what he thinks can pass the House and Senate. That includes keeping the tax cut for those making up to $250,000 and an extension of unemployment insurance.
Obama is slated to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.